Addressing Misrepresentations in Public Art on Campus

Apr 15, 2021

As the charter for the College declared, Dartmouth was “founded for the education of Indian and English youths.” While the College failed to meet the mandate of its charter for the first two-hundred years of its existence, Dartmouth has been a leader in Native American higher education since the 1970s. Still, there remains a great deal of work to ensure the College lives up to its charter, its mission, and its core values. 

In recent years, and alongside other institutions and communities across the country, Dartmouth has reevaluated a number of works of public art on campus. For decades, Native American students at Dartmouth have advocated for the removal of public art and imagery that misrepresent Indigenous peoples and histories in harmful and demeaning ways. In 2018, a consultative process led to the removal of the Hovey Murals from the ’53 Commons and their placement in the Hood Museum’s collections storage facility. This past summer, the College made the decision to replace the weathervane on top of Baker Tower at the Library. While the removal of the Hovey Murals took decades and numerous committees, the decision to replace the weathervane happened almost immediately after a petition was circulated amongst students and community members. 

These recent decisions demonstrate a growing understanding within Dartmouth that conversations about diversity and inclusion do not exist in a vacuum, separate from the need to confront, recognize, problematize, interrogate, and reconcile our problematic pasts. The representations (or lack thereof) of marginalized peoples and communities are powerful visual narratives that shape our understandings of place and power. With these understandings in mind, it is important that we begin to address problematic representations more proactively, and without placing the burden of this work on our students. 

Given these recent decisions and that one of the main goals of the “Advancing Pathways for Long-Term Collaboration” grant is to strengthen the working relationship between the Library and the Hood Museum, one of the first collaborative projects between the two centers will be the replacement of the Cyrus Dallin bronze Appeal to the Great Spirit in the Library’s Tower Room. Although its replacement remains undecided, we hope to include a work by an Indigenous artist in its place and are also considering the potential for changing the sculpture on view on a more regular basis.  

To read more about the Hovey Murals:

To read more about the Library’s Baker Tower weathervane: